The Barnes Foundation

Barnes Jawn(t), August 2018. Images courtesy of the Obvious Agency.

Barnes Jawn(t), August 2018. Images courtesy of the Obvious Agency.

In 2018 and 2019 I skirted the line between curating and performing (curforming?) at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. In August 2018 I worked with a group called the Obvious Agency to create interactive tours of the Barnes Collection called Barnes Jawn(t)s (“jawn(t)” being another portmanteau of the Philadelphian pronoun “jawn” and the standard English verb “jaunt”). In these Jawn(t)s I led small groups through the Collection’s galleries, where we created dialogues based on the art and examined incidental art objects like thermostats and exit signs. We looked at each gallery’s contents through many imagined lenses: that of the artists who’d made the art, that of Dr. Albert Barnes who’d assembled the collection and curated each gallery, and that of ourselves as viewers and the way we interpret the intentions of both creators and curators.

In May of 2019 I created “P is for Picture Theatre” inspired by  storytelling art objects in the Barnes Collection, including hieroglyphic tablets from Egypt, painted urns from Greece, and carved wooden headboards from Madagascar.For this event shadow artists Dirk Joseph and Erik Ruin presented a pair of scrolling crankies, polka musician Dan Nosheny sang a German Schnitzelbank, the Bread & Puppet Theater performed a cantastoria created for anti-war demonstrations, and I made a kamishibai-style history of picture theatre traditions to put the whole event into context. (See my own essay about picture performance here.)

Podcasting

In 2018 I launched Nobody Knows, a comedic question-and-answer podcast with Mason Rosenthal. Each short episode begins with a listener's question to which Mason (in his title role as "Nobody") records an answer and then sends me the recording to edit, sound design, and release online. The series began as a sequel to our play, Nobody's Home, and drew in over 1,000 listeners within its first month of release.

Sample episodes:

Above: Shots from the Nobody Knows installation at the 2018 Fun-A-Day Art Show in Philadelphia.

Aisle

In 2018 I designed sound for Aisle, an immersive theatre experience for an audience of one that took place inside of an actual supermarket in Philadelphia. Performers I-Chia Chiu and Mason Rosenthal communicated with each participant via phone, text message, and in-person monologue as they pushed a shopping cart around the store's grocery aisles. Upon exiting, patrons received a recording that they listened to while Chiu and Mason finished the performance in the supermarket's parking lot, the lines of dialogue in their ears refraining phrases heard during Aisle's various scenes. Here is that recording:

Cones

Cones is the solo show about vision loss and dis/ability passing that I created for my MFA Practicum. Dis/ability has long been a running undercurrent in my work, and this was the first piece I'd made to address it more explicitly. The show's title refers to a retinal condition that runs in my family.

While making the show I blogged about dis/ability performance, including how blindness shows up in theatre, film and song as well as in daily life. Read it here.

Just before to its debut, NPR station WHYY ran this radio piece about Cones.

Cones was a keynote performance for Temple University's Institute on Disabilities, at Goddard College, Cabrini University, Episcopal Academy, and for the New Jersey Commision for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Videography by Aleks Martray.

Triptych

I made a triptych of theatrical experiments in 2014–15 that ran somewhere between my practices of performance and teaching. Each began as a workshop that worked from a specific medium (still image, movement, or sound) toward making theatrical performance.

Videos here are from the "12 Tones" workshop series whose participants first created sounds, turned them into movements, and then united these into quick performances.

A finite set of neuroscientific 2-person movements formed the basis for "8 Moves" and a set of specific objects was entitled "6 Chairs." Click the titles to view portfolio monographs for each:

6 Chairs
8 Moves
12 Tones

Dis/ability Ethnography

Logo for Argentina's green cane law, which designates people with low vision.

Logo for Argentina's green cane law, which designates people with low vision.

Dis/ability performance and notions of dis/ability “passing” moved to the forefront of my work in 2014. I make performances that investigate that line between "dis" and "abled" by asking performers and audiences to cross it in various directions. In Nobody's Home (2013) the audience spends about a third of the show with their eyes closed. In Alchemy (2014) certain performers have limited use of eyes, hands, mouth, or body altogether, and audiences wrestled with assumptions and prejudices around that. I performed my solo memoir Cones (2015) blindfolded and the audience also engaged part of the show doing certain things with eyes closed. And since playing the blind prophet Tiresias in Antigone (2016) I've been typecast as a visually-impaired actor in preference to fully-sighted actors assuming the roles of low-vision characters.

Alongside this work has a been a blog called Rods & Cones about the spectrum of vision and blindness in art, media, science and culture. I have also taught classes on the subject at Cornell University, Goddard College, the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, and through the Headlong Performance Institute.

Above: Sighted actors perform blind characters in The Miracle Worker (1962), The Tale of Zatochi (1962), O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), Daredevil (2015), Star Wars: Rogue One (2016), and the video for Lionel Ritchie's song "Hello" (1984). Whether products of biography, fiction, or fantasy, all these blind characters are depicted as having extraordinary powers

Nobody's Home

Foot Massage.jpg

In 2013 I directed and co-wrote this multi-sensory meditation-comedy for actor-creator Mason Rosenthal to perform in his own bedroom. It debuted at Philadelphia's SoLow Festival, and went on to the New Orleans Fringe Festival where audiences experienced it on board an RV. The show has since toured to more than 50 bedrooms in a dozen cities around the U.S. and had a handful of “studio” performances at colleges and universities.

In Nobody's Home a personality named Nobody leads the audience through three guided mediations, serves them tea and sweets, and provides private dances, foot massages, and shadow fables from the canon of bygone folklore. In 2018 Mason and I launched the sequel, Nobody Knows, as a podcast.

Selected Performances:

  • Philadelphia SoLow Festival, 2013

  • New Orleans Fringe Festival, 2013

  • East Coast Tour, 2014

  • Valentines Day Shows, 2014–2016

  • Launch of Nobody Knows podcast, 2018

Rutherfurd Hall

Meet the Mediums instruments.jpg

For five years I was a regular artist-in-residence at Rutherfurd Hall, a historic mansion in northwest New Jersey. While there I directed and performed in seven devised plays that moved actors and audience about the building, each drawing from local history, folklore, and science (Lewis Morris Rutherfurd was a pioneer in the field of astrophotography).

Click here to read show notes for the following plays:

The Sea of Tranquility
Alchemy
The Gauntlet

Photos by Amy Hufnagel, route map by Morgan FitzPatrick Andrews.

Fables of Flight and Falling

The Soldier and the Phoenix

From 2008 to 2010 I wrote a cycle of allegories that I adapted into blockprints, dioramas, and then miniature theatre performances. These were featured at the Great Small Works international Toy Theater Festival in New York, at the Banners and Cranks Festival in Chicago, the Black Sheep Festival in Pittsburgh, and at Philadelphia's Institute of Contemporary Art

Five-Company Shakespeare

Julius Caesar.jpg

For five years I co-curated a series of Shakespeare plays with the touring theatre company Missoula Oblongata. We assigned each play's five acts to five theatre companies with varied aesthetics. These acts were assembled "exquisite corpse" style in an undisclosed location. To attend, audience members arrived at a prescribed subway stop wearing red carnations and were then escorted to the secret theatre where they experienced each act in promenade and served with a desert.

The plays we made:

The Tempest (2007)
King Lear (2008-09)
Julius Caesar (2010)
Antony and Cleopatra (2011)
Richard III (2012)

Mostly Hairless Ape Dreams

Scene from the 2005 toy theatre edition of “Mostly Hairless Ape Dreams”

Scene from the 2005 toy theatre edition of “Mostly Hairless Ape Dreams”

In 2005 I wrote a number of short stories and adapted them into a touring toy theatre show. Among these were the “Mostly Hairless Ape Dreams,” performed as a three-part dream sequence with shadow puppets and chance music. These originally appeared in book form at the first Fun-A-Day happening in Philadelphia, then as part of a theatre piece that toured to festivals around the U.S. with puppeteer Eli Nixon. In 2007 I remounted “Mostly Hairless Ape Dreams” with shadow artist Erik Ruin as part of “Mushroom Music,” a show inspired by the writings of John Cage that toured the East Coast. More recently I recreated these stories as this 8-minute experiment in audio storytelling. The opening bit about the butterfly is from John Cage’s one-minute collection, Indeterminacy:

Appearances:

  • Part of “The Little Books” at Fun-A-Day Philadelphia (2005)

  • In the “Where Do Things Belong?” East Coast tour with Eli Nixon (2005)

  • In the “Going Nowhere” East Coast tour with Erik Ruin (2007)

  • At Goddard College’s IBA Winter Cabaret (2007)

  • At Great Small Works’ “Sound & Shadow” Spaghetti Dinner, Judson Church, NYC (2007)

Performative Lecture

"The Frankenstein of Everyday Life" performative lecture at the Black Sheep Festival, Pittsburgh, 2006

"The Frankenstein of Everyday Life" performative lecture at the Black Sheep Festival, Pittsburgh, 2006

"The Moon and Our Future" performative lecture at Rutherfurd Hall, 2012

"The Moon and Our Future" performative lecture at Rutherfurd Hall, 2012

"Medium Manifesto" performative lecture at for the Alternative Media Confernce, Goddard College, 2013

"Medium Manifesto" performative lecture at for the Alternative Media Confernce, Goddard College, 2013

Performative lectures predate the ages of information and industrialization, harkening back to times when people needed to step outside to hear someone talk about science or history. I use performative objects—pictures, masks, contraptions and household items from everyday life—as conveyances for ideas, often inviting audience members to step into the process. Because of their interdisciplinary and interactive nature, the performative lecture can happen at the theater, on the street, and even in a conventional lecture hall.

Also see Picture Performance: A History

Ramshackle Enterprises

The ATM Show, 2006

The ATM Show, 2006

From 2001 to 2008 I created and toured several DIY theatre pieces with puppeteer Eli Nixon. Known for their cardboard storytelling and paper mâché magic, Eli makes "art to reclaim public spaces, to spread real news, to surprise us out of our daily zombiedom with homemade spectacle and celebration." For many years Eli and I also cohosted the Puppet Uprising cabaret series in Philadelphia and the annual Black Sheep Puppet Festival in Pittsburgh.

Selected collaborations:

Eli's Ramshackle Enterprises website

L-R: Mite We? (Philadelphia, 2008), ATM (Baltimore, 2006), on stage at Great Small Works International Toy Theater Festival (NYC, 2005), and performing on WKBS-TV channel 48 (Philadelphia, 2002).